Piccinini and her Skywhale


My mum was an art teacher, so art has always been a huge part of my life. But no artwork has ever struck me like Patricia Piccinini’s work, and I don’t mean Skywhale.

I haven’t been to Canberra to see it flying. I find I never really know a piece of art until I’ve stood before it, or in this case, beneath it. I’ve seen some photos on @theskywhale_ and other sites. It looks good.

I support it because it’s Piccinini and it’s weird and awesome. Like most of her work, it leaves me feeling awed and peaceful. I fell in love with Piccinini’s work the day I saw it.

Her “Comforter” was the first piece I encountered, in the Art Gallery of NSW. “The Comforter,” is a sweet little girl, an orphan I thought. She reclines against a wall. In her arms a baby lies, but a baby with an unusual body shape. The little girl is covered in a fine down of soft black hair.


The Comforter — Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery

I crouched by this piece for a long time, amazed by the finish, the realism, the weirdness, the emotion and the beauty. The girl might be part monkey, and the baby part monster, but love and peace radiates from the scene.

Almost always, I wander through galleries looking and not finding what I want. I want artists to connect with me, to visually please and yet challenge me. I want their unique creations to connect with me and make me feel something.

Her work does it. As do Raqib Shaw’s glittering murals.

Piccinini twists conventions of beauty, tradition and normality into new shapes. Her people and creatures are just beyond the edges of my reality. I hurt with them, I fear them, and I fear for them. I want to help them, but do I dare?

In her work I see a challenge. Can we expand our empathy across conventions of appearance and difference?

I was thrilled when I heard about Skywhale. I would love to see it in the sky. But I feel afraid for it, too, as I fear for all her creations, that they will be shunned or stoned or ridiculed, because they are more different than our culture is prepared to tolerate.

I hope Skywhale travels around Australia and the world, and people are challenged and amazed by it. That they smile and laugh and make boob jokes.

Piccinini creates the best art I’ve ever seen. It comes from her soul, from a unique and magical place. It is new and wonderful and exquisitely executed.

When people question the value of her work, they’re decrying the value of art. Art’s purpose isn’t to please and entertain. It’s to explore. It’s a celebration of our creative spirit. It’s like the point on the pyramid of our civilisation. If we fail to expand our art, we are blunted. Our potential for growth is stunted.

We need art, like fiction, to challenge, stir, inspire and innovate. It’s like a knife disemboweling the skin of perceived reality to discover the shining intestines of what might be.

Skywhale makes me smile. It draws attention. It ends the debate on breastfeeding in public. Breasts are okay. With it floating above you, who could be afraid of a humble human breast in an infant’s mouth?

To me, Skywhale is the coolest thing Australia has ever done. I hope some of us realise that. It’s weird, it’s wonderful, it attracts global attention, and it’s bleeding edge.

The truly shocking thing is that Piccinini was only paid $8800 for her design. That’s very generous of her. She’s my hero.




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